Safety of students, teachers, and staff must be top priority
The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), one of the state’s largest teachers unions, says students should start the school year with remote learning in the fall, rather than in-person instruction.
Union leaders said while their members are looking forward to returning to the classroom, they are also worried about the health of their students, families and communities.
IFT President Dan Montgomery said educators and school staff from around the state are calling for remote learning this fall in Illinois’ schools, colleges and universities.
“We arrived at this position by having talked to our members extensively about how do we do this,” Montgomery said. “Our primary concern is keeping everybody safe – not only our members, but our students, their families and their communities. At this point our recommendation is that schools should return to online or remote learning for the beginning of the school year. It is the safest and best option.”
IFT Executive Vice President Stacy Davis Gates noted, “Since March when schools closed unexpectedly, our members across this state have given their all to educate students during unprecedented times while facing countless challenges. To ask them now to put their own safety and that of their students and communities at greater risk as the pandemic rages on is both irresponsible and unfair.”
The union’s positions are detailed in the science-based “IFT Statement on Return to In-person Instruction,” which also provides statewide reopening guidance, including measures for safely returning to in-person instruction, ensuring Black and Brown students who have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 have critical technology and healthcare resources, and childcare for parents.
A full copy of the statement can be found here.
Faculty and staff at Illinois colleges and universities issued a joint statement calling on campus presidents to start the upcoming semester with online learning.
“The latest science should dictate and guide the reopening of our colleges and universities to protect the safety of our students, faculty, employees, their families and communities,” said University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) President John Miller. “With so much still unknown about COVID-19, this is not the time to rush the reopening of our institutions.”
University Professionals of Illinois represents faculty and staff at seven of Illinois’ 12 public universities, and is one of more than 40 unions and allied groups to sign on to a joint higher education statement demanding remote learning to start this fall.
‘THIS COULD BE THE NEW NORMAL’
“With infection rates becoming unstable and rising in some regions of the state, the union and our members are gravely concerned about the safety of students, educators, and staff. According to a recent Kaiser Foundation study, nearly 24 percent of educators are at high-risk due to underlying health conditions, which further bolsters the need to begin the year with online learning.
“For me it’s an issue of life or death, as I live with diabetes and am high risk,” said Elizabeth Villareal, an academic advisor at Northeastern Illinois University. “I want to do my job, but I want to ensure that my safety and the safety of my students is protected.”
Although teachers agree that remote learning is no substitute for in-person instruction, they are confident it can be done effectively.
“We can build off of what we have done so far in our remote learning and make that more beneficial,” said Rachel Esposito, a middle school teacher in Cicero. “This could be the new normal.”
“We’re teachers,” added Beth Anderson, a special education teacher in Kankakee. “We’re resilient. We’ll figure this out and learn how to make it work.”
Though IFT believes some types of in-person instruction can be achieved with health and safety mitigation, in the absence of a practical safety plan that includes clear guidance like the union has provided, a return to in-person instruction right now is too great a risk. Too many schools and campuses cannot currently achieve critical safety benchmarks.
Included in the IFT’s guidance for an eventual reopening of schools:
- A call for all school districts and institutions to negotiate safe, effective learning plans with their unions, students and parents.
- The right of teachers to determine the best mode of instruction.
- Required social distancing and a limit of 15 students per classroom in PreK-12 schools.
- Temperature checks or health screenings for all students, staff and visitors.
- Adequate testing availability, especially in rural communities.
- Required two-week quarantines for students or staff who test positive or have high-risk exposure to COVID-19.
Montgomery noted, “We’re advising our locals to work really hard with their communities and school management to get this right. We clearly can’t leave this to Trump and Betsy DeVos to figure out. We’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that people are safe.”